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In sports, language can decide outcome
Sun Xiaohua  Updated: 2004-08-21 08:26

A misunderstanding due to language may be a more lamentable way for an athlete to miss out on an Olympic medal than a simple mental lapse.

An egregious example of this phenomenon occurred for top Chinese archer He Ying at the Olympic Games in Athens.

He Ying broke into tears at the Panathinaiko Stadium after her medal hopes were dashed when she crashed out of the individual women's competition at the Olympics on Wednesday. She received a red card in the quarter-final round for firing an arrow out of turn.

She paid a terrible price: Her highest scoring shot, a 10, was deducted. She also missed her 10th shot in a 12-arrow shootout while her coach was embroiled in a heated exchange with Olympics officials about the incident.

He Ying was the individual silver medalist in Atlanta in 1996. With exceptionally strong competitive strengths, she was expected to earn a medal for China in Athens, if not strike gold.

Sadly, what befell her and her nation is only bitterness and missed glory.

Before her calamitous shot out of turn ended her aspirations, a judge on the spot had given He Ying a warning that it was not her turn to shoot. Yet both she and her coach did not understand the judge's words - spoken in English. She fired anyway, which resulted in the pernicious fault.

Who should take the blame? Not the judge, not the competitors, but He Ying herself. If she knew more English, especially the words necessary for understanding the rules relative to the commands inherent to her sport, the outcome might have been vastly different.

These days in Athens, unexpected losses are not rare.

Take the gymnastics teams and the men's badminton shuttlers as cases in point. People have spoken a lot about the athletes' psychological states and have shown great pity on those who've had medals seemingly vanish from their hands.

But He Ying's case is different.

For a professional sports person, physical strength and skill serves as the basis of winning one's sporting challenges. In addition, having an edge psychologically is greatly stressed so as to influence the athlete's on-the-spot performance.

Sadly, it seems language capabilities have been neglected in He Ying's case, and, we believe, in many others.

To set some precious time aside to learn English, especially technical terms regarding one's sport, is an absolute must for better communication with other competitors, judges or staff members at venues at international games. Only that will ensure proper outcomes.

In He Ying's case, it is understood that the judge involved did not use complicated wording. Rather, the official spoke basic technical terms used in any archery competition.

If either He Ying or her coach had grasped what he had said, the error could have been avoided.

Indeed, not all Chinese players are so inept in the English language.

In the mixed doubles badminton title on Thursday, China's Zhang Jun and Gao Ling retained their championship while battling Britons Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms in a contentious match.

After a deceptively one-sided start, in the second round, when the competition was at its most fierce, the judge made a mistake in determining whether a cockspur had landed out of bounds. Zhang made a timely argument to the judge in English, gaining a precious point at a crucial moment.

English can matter a lot. If you don't think so, just ask He Ying and her coach.

(China Daily)

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